Each winter I am dismayed by the severity in which crape myrtles are pruned. Chest high multistemmed trunks are often all that remain after a bout of heavy-handed pruning. Below are some tips that you may choose to follow the next time you prune your crape myrtles. The method detailed below can be time consuming, but the end result is a healthier and more attractive tree.
Example of excessive pruning
1. Crape myrtles can be pruned anytime they are dormant. In Wilmington, the window of opportunity is generally from late November until late March. Because crape myrtles are slow to break out of dormancy, you have a little more time to prune them than with other tree species. On the UNCW campus, we prune our crape myrtles between mid February and mid March so the trees can maintain their natural form late into the winter.
2. Start by pruning the 4 D's: Dead branches
Disarranged branches (ex. - crossing limbs)
3. Once the 4 D's have been addressed, additional tip pruning can be used to promote the development of new flowering shoots. We recommend you limit your pruning to branches that are no larger in diameter than your pinky finger. Cutting back larger diameter limbs does promote shoot development, but is not recommended. This practice creates a weakly branched tree as a result of all the new growth flushing from one point. The method also ruins the natural form of the tree.
4. We remove suckers from the base of our crape myrtles anytime they develop during the year. � We typically try to maintain between 3-5 main shoots (stems) on crape myrtles. Single stem specimen trees are commercially available, but the tree's natural disposition is to be multistemmed.